One of the annual highlights of every motor racing enthusiast’s December is the release of UK publication Autosport’s list of the top 50 race drivers worldwide.
This year’s list was somewhat predictably topped by Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and World Rally Championship title winner Ott Tanak third. For those wondering, Charles Leclerc (F1), Carlos Sainz (F1), Alexander Rossi (IndyCar), Sebastien Ogier (WRC), Rene Rast (DTM), Michael Conway (WEC), and Jean-Eric Vergne (Formula E) filled the balance of the top 10.
But naturally, we’re just as interested with which Kiwis made it onto the list as with the outright winners. And this year a total of five New Zealanders cracked the 50, with Scott McLaughlin ranking the highest.
After a history-making Supercars season where he reset the record for most wins in a year for both the category and within Team Penske’s lineage (a Bathurst 1000 win being among those victories), McLaughlin was placed a credible 14th on Autosport’s top 50 list — between IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden and Renault F1 pilot Daniel Ricciardo.
Scott Dixon also made the list in 22nd after a tough season where he was often outnumbered by Team Penske runners at the pointy end of the field. Eight spots behind was Nick Cassidy, having become the first Kiwi to claim a Japanese Super Formula title (widely considered to be the second or third most competitive open-wheel series outside of Formula 1) on top of second place in the SuperGT series.
Rounding out the Kiwis was Mitch Evans in 36th, following a greatly improved Formula E season with Jaguar, which included a maiden race win. No other Supercars competitors made the closing list.
It’s an interesting but no less deserved piece of global recognition for McLaughlin. The local Velocity News NZ Driver of the Year list unveiled recently (which, full disclosure, I was on the panel for) placed him in second behind Cassidy and ahead of Earl Bamber and Brendon Hartley.